by Victoria Landis
Plot: Each page in this book leaps to the next, constantly driving more curiosity about Jordan, the woman with amnesia who, as it turns out, is from mysterious wealthy origins. Local wildlife, especially birds, are drawn to Jordan, and her awe-inspiring ability to heal the sick and injured adds to the speedy pace of this story.
Prose/Style: Although the POV is third-person, the writing is personable, much like someone describing a strange experience in their life. The matter-of-fact voice adds to the believability of the plot, and adept descriptions enable visualization of the settings.
Originality: Stories of amnesia have been told before, and tales of magical healing powers are not uncommon, but the blend of the two and the personalities involved lend a distinctiveness to this modern-day tale with the impacts of technologies and social media.
Character Development: The personalities of Jordan, Petra, and the others in their circle are sharply contrasted with the unpleasant individuals who wish to take advantage of Jordan's situation, or attack her as an “antichrist.” Petra's role as Jordan's helper feels like an “everyperson's” place, with realistic reactions to the phenomenon.
Blurb: This is irresistible reading, hard to put down without knowing what will happen next in the strange situation of Jordan's amnesia, and how she has become capable of miraculous feats.
by Susan Welch
Plot: The plot proceeds slowly at first, but quickens with a certain delicate flow as the story moves on. The plot is interesting and emotional.
Prose/Style: The prose possesses a sophistication with a certain air of wistfulness for a time long past. The dialogue doesn’t suffer from any pretensions, and nothing feels too dated.
Originality: The story hits a high note for originality, and the conflict between close families and the war between truth and lies ripping at the inner structure of family is very moving.
Character Development: The characters are relatable, not all likable, but their foibles and strengths embolden the readers’ reaction to them and identifying with the book’s cast. The characters make the story eminently more readable.
by Jeremy Bradley-Silverio Donato
Plot: Infused with a powerful message, this love story about two men from differing cultural backgrounds touches the heart and the mind in an exploration of trust and betrayal, rarely succumbing to trite idealism. Infected with HIV after the course of an intense liaison, one man discovers that passion is not a predictor of the future, while the other learns that guilt is a psychological destroyer.
Prose: Hard-hitting prose enhances this potent narrative in a seemingly effortless depiction of real life. Every direct word builds on the novel’s precarious foundation, a slow progression into an awakening for both protagonists when their relationship crumbles.
Originality: Stories that shine a spotlight on HIV have been written already, yet it is the careful rendering of this delicate plot that makes the book so high impact. Underlying the obvious warning about having unprotected sex with a new partner is an even more frightening prospect—unrequited love.
Character Development: Entangled in a quest for maternal acceptance, the portrayal of these mesmerizing main characters is alternately fortified and weakened by a familiar, often humorous, tendency to reach into childhood memories. The personalities emerge as troubled and insecure, maintaining a defensive distance from family.
by Connor Coyne
Plot: The book features a well-constructed plot with a bit of mystery, drama, death, and teen romance. The author manages to keep all of the balls in the air and consider all of the problems that come with a city on the decline and trying to grow up there.
Prose/Style: The dialogue is natural to the setting and age of the characters. There is a good balance between description and action among the characters. The images created by the words will stick with the reader.
Originality: With maturing teens and a declining city, the author has created parallel opposites which will not disappoint. There is no doubt that this town exists which is part of the appeal. Making this a multivolume story works well leaving the reader wanting more.
Character Development: Strong and well-developed characters who come across as genuine. The trials of being thirteen are truly captured. These characters are growing up fast and not perfect by any means. The author has also made the city a character as it slowly degrades due to a failing auto industry.
by Vahid Imani
Plot: This book is a richly written historical and political study of Iran in 1924. The book presents a remarkable struggle for justice in the midst of political maneuvering by countries competing to control oil rights.
Prose/Style: This is a well written book and the author keeps a lot of action and characters organized. The language is succinct and the dialogue exceptionally authentic and strong.
Originality: The book explores vicious culture clashes with a light touch, deftly avoiding any tendency to preach.
Character Development: The characters are authentic and explored in great detail. They are also surprisingly complex; the author avoids painting characters with a broad brush, bringing great humanity to them all.
by Linda Metcalf
Plot: Metcalf tells an epic story of aristocracy, race relations, and societal change in the 19th-century American South. Julia's narrative unfolds in a manner that is especially intimate; readers are privy to the character's full range of thoughts and emotions. Through Julia's distinctive, genuine voice, and with great verisimilitude, Metcalf offers a quiet window into history.
Prose: Metcalf's prose is descriptive, lyrical, and lush. The intimacy of the journal format provides readers with a sense of peeking into the pages of a real diary. The strength of Metcalf's writing, however, is also somewhat hindered by the format, which does not always adhere to the cardinal rule of "show, don't tell." Although the voice is highly engaging, readers may struggle to follow major plot points and relationships that might be more clearly conveyed in-scene and through dialogue.
Character Development: In protagonist Julia, readers will find a believable and highly sympathetic character who evolves substantially throughout her lifetime. Side characters are never as rich as Julia, but through the heroine's perceptions, they come across as substantive and serve the story well.
Originality: The story unfolds in a storied historical setting, but through Metcalf's protagonist, circumstances are rendered fresh. The unique journal format particularly allows readers to witness Julia's incremental growth from an innocent, naive young woman to one who has suffered, struggled, and persevered.
by GINA MIANI
Plot: This is a sequel, but the transition is quite smooth; reading the first book is not necessary to understand the lives of Mariah and Trey, who are driven to help people living on the Caribbean island of Antillia. Many children have gone missing—it's suspected that they're being sold into the sex slave trade—and the emotion and action here keep the pages turning.
Prose/Style: Mariah's narration is a distinct, memorable voice. Descriptions of the Caribbean island are enchanting, the emotional prose is moving, and the wit is crisp.
Originality: This is a very original story of a semi-retired couple, the ex-military husband who has special forces training and his reluctant wife, attempting to stop a child-sex-slavery ring in Antillia.
Character Development: At first the marriage between Mariah and Trey seems almost too perfect, but their troubles give the relationship texture. Both have well-rounded personalities, and the additional characters are unique individuals.
Blurb: Baby-boomers will love this semi-retired couple, willing to risk everything to help the missing children of the Caribbean island of Antillia -- a place of soothing beauty, but also of distressingly dark secrets.
by Meredith Battle
Plot: Narrator Bee gets herself in plenty of sticky situations over the course of this story, but there are quite a few heartwarming and comedic moments as well. There is never a dull moment in the Hollow.
Prose/Style: Battle’s writing is funny and sharp, with a Southern twang. The voice carried throughout the text is superb; readers will be enthralled by the members of this small mountain town.
Originality: Battle blends historical fiction, comedy, romance, and coming-of-age into a totally unique storyline. Spunky narrator Bee and her escapades will not be easily forgotten.
Character Development: Readers will rally behind Anabelle “Bee” Livingston; the story’s first-person narration allows for an up-close-and-personal look at her life. Every supporting character in the story has a distinct personality.
Blurb: Go Down the Mountain is the perfect storm of humor, hope, and heartache for characters living in the Virginia Hollow.
by Christian Van Allen
Plot: Raising Mary Jane, the story of a character who stumbles into the business of growing marijuana, unfolds at an even pace, balancing the introduction of new characters and new tragedies with the protagonist's steady personal development.
Prose/Style: Van Allen's vivid prose expertly balances pragmatic storytelling with more introspective lyricism. The author establishes a striking sense of place, both through descriptive passages and historical references.
Originality: Though Van Allen's narrative follows a somewhat familiar trajectory, the author ultimately offers an energetic underdog story with poetic flare and charisma.
Character Development: Wesley isn’t a terribly deep character, but he is eager to learn, and as the story progresses, he trades his naivety for maturity, his hesitancy for sureness. Before the reader's eyes, he grows and transforms into a memorable and impactful protagonist.
by William Harms
Plot: Set in an evocative historical setting, this novel casts a spell on readers. Harms effectively builds and sustains tension, allowing the story to unfurl in a manner that feels both organic and finessed. A rather hasty conclusion detracts somewhat from the otherwise gracefully paced narrative.
Prose/Style: The author's polished prose revives what might otherwise be a standard tale of brutality and revenge; Harms writes with a rolling staccato and a minimalism that is sharply resonant.
Originality: Harms delivers an atmospheric narrative enriched by incisive descriptions and a vivid sense of place. The novel is reminiscent of classic westerns in terms of structure, tone, and plot elements, but its literary undercurrents allow it to stand apart. Readers may draw comparisons to Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers.
Character Development: Character development is implemented well here, but is secondary to the novel's rich sense of place and its deeply visceral descriptions. Individuals seem almost to be extensions of the landscape of the American South rather than wholly formed individuals--an attribute of the novel that is not necessarily a detriment.
by Jeff Stookey
Plot: Stookey's novel is well plotted. There are few surprises; however, the subject matter and historical time period will keep the reader engaged throughout the novel.
Prose/Style: Readers will find “Acquaintance” well crafted and a beautiful read. This book is an honest portrayal of love and secrecy in a time period where anyone who was different might be in danger.
Originality: Stookey's novel distinguishes itself with a heartbreaking look into forbidden love and fear in 1920's Oregon.
Character Development: The author does a remarkable job creating Carl Holman and Jimmy Harper. The characters are exquisite, yet flawed, and altogether memorable. Both Carl and Jimmy grow tremendously throughout the novel.
by Jeff Stookey
Plot: Stookey’s Dangerous Medicine is the third in a trilogy and despite that stands alone in its story and construct. The story moves through Carl’s life as he tries to navigate a bigoted, hateful Portland and holds the reader's interest through both historical facts (Klan, Eugenics/birth control) and the created world of Carl and his friends.
Prose/Style: With the ability to set a scene, Stookey’s prose shows the compassion and love Carl and Jimmy have for one another as well as the tensions in Carl’s life—his job at the clinic, his faked engagement—and the horrors that underlie the community.
Originality: Pulling from the history pages, Stookey combines his characters and the reality of life in the 1920s/30s in a clever and dynamic way. From the faked relationships of Gwen/Carl and Charlie/Jimmy to the ever-present role of the Klan (Invisible Empire) in society.
Character Development: The characters are believable and are easy for readers to connect with. Their struggles, hopes, desires (and even the ones readers will loathe) flow from them and through them.
by Stephen Finlay Archer
Plot: Archer’s novel is well plotted throughout. The novel is clearly written, giving the reader an engaging storyline to follow and the great gift of knowledge of a period in Irish history that is not abundant in historical fiction.
Prose/Style: Overall, the prose is well crafted, providing the reader with a mixture of a love story, brutal battles, and the search for a lost sibling. The novel felt authentic and true to the time period.
Originality: Archer’s exemplary novel is filled with original details and touches. The characters and subplots give the story extra flair, and add even more strength to the novel.
Character Development: The main characters of the novel are well-developed and easy for the reader to connect with. Morgan and Tadgh will have the reader rooting for a happily-ever-after ending, and readers will be rapt while following the adventures of Collin trying to find his long-lost sister.
by Susan Holt
Plot: This is a fast, light, sweet story of a woman finding love and friendship during rides on a mysterious antique tram. That the other riders may exist on another plane or realm is easy to guess, but it's a fun journey nevertheless—and how will the experience effect Beth? The abrupt ending and occasional plot hole could be remedied to keep readers captivated throughout.
Prose/Style: The narrator's voice is like that of an old friend: fairly simplistic but appropriate for the tale.
Originality: This story is fresh in its setting, and the implantation of the magical tram that affects the character’s individual and intertwined lives. The friendships that are developed and the sweet love subplot add to the originality.
Character Development: The main character is likable and sympathetic, her love interest Isaac is quite personable, and peripheral characters are excellently formed, including the antagonists. The old-fashioned personalities are charming and quaint.
by Joni Okun
Plot: Once in the thick of it, the novel’s narrative engine propels the reader relentlessly forward. The plot is grounded in well-researched history, and brought to life by layers of emotional, psychological, and political depth, conflict, and complication.
Prose/Style: The prose in Okun’s novel frequently slips into the redundant and inefficient; however, at the same time, the reader is lulled by the consistent tone and rhythm of her authorial voice, and delighted by moments of linguistic beauty and imagery.
Originality: Reviving the complexities of the characters and time, Okun breathes life into a slice of the past that many of us have, unfortunately, allowed to stale into a state of vague oversimplification.
Character Development: The characters in To Hold the Throne grow more and more dynamic as the novel progresses. Psychological yarns of frustration, ambition, and emotional depth weave into wonderfully complex, ambitious, and utterly human protagonists—especially in the main protagonist, Mariamne.
by Matthew Félix
Plot: Felix takes a tragedy and molds a story of actions and reactions that flow from one to another in this highly crafted gem.
Prose/Style: Felix's simple yet expressive prose invites readers into Pablo's world view that remains steady and fascinating throughout the novel.
Originality: Felix's novel about a sensitive young man searching for himself in his rural hometown keeps pages turning with its enchanting prose and cast of characters.
Character Development: The novel is highly character-driven and each page catapults Pablo through soul-searching and formative questions that lead him to his final decision.